Naked & Smiling
By Chris Thompson
April 12, 2001, page 6
Having closed up shop at its old location in January, the Filament Gallery re-opened last Friday night in its new home: the former Munjoy Hill Market at 181 Congress Street. The grand unveiling of its new space coincided with the First Friday festivities, and kicked off with a solo show of work by Portland artist Michael Branca. The renovation of the new gallery went right down to the wire, resulting in what Filament proprietor Jill Dalton called "the lighting performance," as the gathering visitors had to wait outside for fifteen minutes and watch as she and several others struggled to get the track lighting attached to the ceiling.
And then Branca's show "Naked & Smiling" was open for business. It includes a range of his paintings and prints, as well as the preserved insect work for which he has become locally famous. Doing business as "Mike's Real Dead Bugs," Branca provides Filament visitors and potential customers with an assortment of laminated dead insects, available at the bargain price of twenty-five cents apiece.
Branca's work, from the tiny printed editions to his larger paintings, poses a series of musing explorations of humans' ambivalent relationships to nature and its inhabitants: vegetable, animal, and human. In his statement accompanying the show, he writes that he imagines "a world in which all decisions, big and small, are based on their social and environmental merit, not on the fictitious value-scale of the dollar bill"; in addition to the ideas and aims that his work addresses, he also feels compelled to make artwork that you don't need to earn six figures to afford.
On opening night, one budding arts patron, a boy about seven-years old, felt that Branca's work was something he simply had to have. He pushed through the packed crowd, found Filament proprietor Jill Dalton, and handed her a shiny quarter. Puzzled, she asked him what it was for. He proudly displayed his bug, and announced his plans to take it home and scare his mom. The new Filament Gallery had made its first sale.